Briar Quality and Weight Factors

kola

Well-known member
#1
Does the weight of briarwood indicate the quality if it?

I clench quite a bit and prefer smaller and lighter pipes. I have two Boswells (average sized and ~ 50 grams) and they are super light and terrific smokers and I'm almost sure he uses old-aged Algerian briar. I also have a few Peterson 303 spigots that weigh in at about 50 grams - perfect for my likings but I'm unsure what kind of briar Peterson uses.

Common sense would tell me a harder, denser, heavier briarwood would be better for making a pipe though. ??
 
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RDPipes

Misogynistic Pipe Maker to the Stars!
Sales
#3
Light weight or heavy weight I don't think it has anything to do with the quality of the briar, only it's density.
Granted density can be a good thing when talking about burning tobacco in a chamber but, too dense can make a pipe
heavier then normal depending on the size of pipe made but, I think there ends any comparison. Just my 2 cents.
 

Sasquatch

Wizzard
Staff member
#6
I don't mean this to be facetious in any way, I've thought about this a lot, but at this point I don't even understand what people mean when they say "quality briar". What quality? If you think light briar is good, then yes, light briar has that quality. If the question is really "Is there some particular kind of briar that smokes better than some other kind of briar in a measurable way (physical density, ring growth tightness, grain structure, color, etc) then the answer is, as far as I can tell, "No."

I have some really freakishly light pipes that smoke very very well. And I mean they are big pipes, lots of meat. And I have pipes that I think are relatively heavy, and they smoke very very well. I've had lots of pipes that didn't smoke well and it was in almost every case because the mechanics of the pipe were bad, some physical problem in the build.

If I built ten identical pipes from all sorts of different briar, would they all smoke absolutely identical? No, I don't really think so (although they'd be very close). But I wouldn't be able to predict anything about how a pipe is going to smoke just by looking at the briar.

Briar is as dry as it's going to get after... 6 months or so on the shelf. Briar contains whatever moisture the ambient humidity of your area is. In Georgia, briar is soaking wet. In Arizona, briar is very dry. Doesn't matter how long you wait.

Something does seem to happen as a block (and presumably a finished pipe) sits. I have old briar, 10, 20, 30 years old, and it smokes great immediately, like, no break in time, I get emails from people saying "Wow this pipe is special."

So I almost want to say that the age of a block is maybe more important than anything else, it petrifies or oxydizes or... something. But sorting this bullcarp out is really really tough, there's just no single independent way to measure these things.
 

kola

Well-known member
#7
Yes, I knew the term "quality" I used in the initial post was going to cause some havoc. I was going to edit it to better clarify it.

quality =

1. prone to fissures/cracks. etc
2. prone to burn-out ( cadence has much to do with that, yes)
3. ability to disperse/absorb heat (another complex topic)
4. physical appearance, difference in grains ( tight, wider, amount of birdseye)
5. smoke-ability (which you (Sas') already covered, thanks) In summary and i.e : A piece of briar is worthless if it's crafted wrong. And aged briar may well-be the best briar.

My thinking (or lack of it) was more based on the differences of briar - from the different species and regions where it's cultivated. I should have posted all this in the initial post.

edit: And as far as break-in time? My Boswells never seem to have a time period, 3 or 4 bowls and it's good (and yes I take out his pre-carb recipe) My Petersons seemed to take 15-20 smokes. But I no longer buy new Petes anymore - for reasons I'll avoid discussing here..
 
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Sasquatch

Wizzard
Staff member
#9
Well if the break in involves burning off stain and shellac in the bowl, ... yeah.

Castellos are the fastest breaking pipes I know of, and they are good quality Italian briar, aged 10 years+.

Burnouts, cracks etc... I mean, to me, that's stuff that gets sorted at the shop, if you see something dodgy, you get rid of it. I can't say that Algerian briar is ten percent less likely to burn than Italian or anything like that. If a piece is super super light, it may have more of a tendency to burn if smoked carelessly, but I don't have a big data pool on that (1 pipe many years ago, customer burnt the hell out of it, but I actually suspect he was trying to re-light tobacco that was already smoked and just toasted the bottom of the bowl).
 

Sasquatch

Wizzard
Staff member
#10
In terms of grain, the plants grow faster in some areas, slower in others. The tightest grain comes off plants that grow slow, the growth rings are tight, the xylem are tightly packed. But no matter who I buy from, I get some pieces like this, and some pieces that are wider/less dense in this way. Mimmo actually grades like this, you can buy a sandblast grade that has fairly wide ring spacing. It is usually less physically dense too. Does it smoke any different? I doubt it.
 

Adam Bybee

Well-known member
#11
Yes, I knew the term "quality" I used in the initial post was going to cause some havoc. I was going to edit it to better clarify it.

quality =

1. prone to fissures/cracks. etc
2. prone to burn-out ( cadence has much to do with that, yes)
3. ability to disperse/absorb heat (another complex topic)
4. physical appearance, difference in grains ( tight, wider, amount of birdseye)
5. smoke-ability (which you (Sas') already covered, thanks) In summary and i.e : A piece of briar is worthless if it's crafted wrong. And aged briar may well-be the best briar.

My thinking (or lack of it) was more based on the differences of briar - from the different species and regions where it's cultivated. I should have posted all this in the initial post.

edit: And as far as break-in time? My Boswells never seem to have a time period, 3 or 4 bowls and it's good (and yes I take out his pre-carb recipe) My Petersons seemed to take 15-20 smokes. But I no longer buy new Petes anymore - for reasons I'll avoid discussing here..
This has been pretty well covered, but topics like this are fun to talk about so I'll add a few thoughts. In my experience and based on research of production pipe making over the last several hundred years, the density of the briar used in any particular pipe doesn't correlate in any significant way in terms of "smoking quality". Or rather, like most aspects of pipe smoking, there are so many variables involved and so little (basically zero?) objective data that outside of a few important ones (drilling quality, etc.) the long list of lesser variables all get lost in the noise.

Briar density is, I would say, one of that long list of lesser variables. What's more, briar density itself depends on a large number of variables. The subspecies of briar involved, the climate in the briar's growth region, the local weather during that particular heath tree's life, the time of year that the briar was harvested, how effectively the briar burl was cut, how long the blocks were boiled for by the briar cutter to remove resins, whether or not the briar mill performed any post-curing treatments to it, the local humidity where the pipe lives, etc.

Some of these things matter more than just the final density of the briar in the finished pipe and some of them could effect smoking quality in opposite ways.

Looking at your more detailed breakdown of Quality aspects:

1. prone to cracking: I would say this mostly depends on the skill of the briar cutter both in terms of avoiding problematic areas when cutting briar burls and how effectively they dry and cure their briar blocks to remove internal stress.

2. prone to burn-out: This is also mostly on the briar cutter and the pipe maker in terms of avoiding problem areas in a piece of briar and yes, on the smoker's technique.

3. heat dispersion: This is an interesting one. I don't think we have any real data to know this for sure. It also depends on whether you mean heat conduction within the briar or the ability of a pipe to stay cool in general (i.e. to conduct the heat away from the briar and into the surrounding air).

4. grain. Good question, I would guess that tighter grain structure would suggest higher density because briar with greater grain density also tends to be harder. I don't have data to back that up though.

5. smokability. As we were discussing above, "smokability" is such a broadly defined topic that there's almost no way to determine whether or not density has an effect. To the point where we're pretty sure it doesn't.
 

Sasquatch

Wizzard
Staff member
#13
4. grain. Good question, I would guess that tighter grain structure would suggest higher density because briar with greater grain density also tends to be harder. I don't have data to back that up though.
This is what's so freaky about the Calabrian wood I have, it's super dense for grain, and uncannily light, mostly. I've had a few "ordinary" pieces, but generally when I make a pipe with this Calabrian stuff, I'm surprised at how light it is, given the briar is hard and has such tight grain spacing.
 

Odissey

Well-known member
Sales
Patron
#14
I will add a little to the general basket of opinions.
1. Propensity to cracking: completely determined by the drying parameters of the briar. That is, the temperature and humidity in the room in which the briar is dried. That, however, is not a guarantee against microcracks that could appear in the briar during its growth. No one will see these cracks. Not the one who cuts and cooks briar at the sawmill will not see them. They will not be seen by the one who makes a smoking pipe out of this briar. However, such pipes very rarely fall into the hands of the pipe smoker, as they break during the manufacturing process.



2. Burnout Propensity: As Ben @cossar has already shown us, even an ultralight briar does not burn in the hands of an experienced smoker.

3. Heat dissipation: It is entirely determined by the design of the smoking pipe. If the bottom of the pipe is thinner than 5 - 6 mm, your hand may feel warm. But if the pipe is smoked correctly, then it always has a comfortable temperature. The thin-walled, thin-bottomed tube is just what the novice smoker needs. According to the temperature of the smoking pipe in the hands, the beginner very quickly learns to smoke correctly. Therefore, billiard is the ideal pipe for a beginner.

4. grain. The straight grain, or bird's eye, that we see on a pipe is nature-created channels for the movement of moisture in the briar. Therefore, the denser and finer the grain on the pipe we see, the drier such a pipe should be. But this is theory. In practice, pipe engineering is of much greater importance. (Hole diameters and their intersection in the right place) Let's not forget about the skill of the one who smokes a pipe.

5. Smokability. I don't quite understand what it is. For me, the comfort of pipe smoking is more important. This is when you absolutely do not need to strain your lungs in order to get a breath of fragrant smoke. The smoke itself flows from the pipe and enters your mouth without any effort on your part. This is only ensured by correct engineering of the smoking pipe.
 

jpberg

Wicked Insightful
Staff member
Sales
#15
This is what's so freaky about the Calabrian wood I have, it's super dense for grain, and uncannily light, mostly. I've had a few "ordinary" pieces, but generally when I make a pipe with this Calabrian stuff, I'm surprised at how light it is, given the briar is hard and has such tight grain spacing.
I have a pipe that’s not tightly grained, and is harder than the hubs of hell.
I have another pipe with grain that’s tighter than two coats of paint, and it’s harder than the hubs of hell.
I get so confused.
 

WrightwoodJohn

Well-known member
#16
I have a pipe that’s not tightly grained, and is harder than the hubs of hell.
I have another pipe with grain that’s tighter than two coats of paint, and it’s harder than the hubs of hell.
I get so confused.
I've got one of those hard pipes, 61' Dunhill. The briar has always felt exceptionally dense and harder than a ...... .......
But not heavy, and a great smoker.
 

Sasquatch

Wizzard
Staff member
#18
I will add a little to the general basket of opinions.
1. Propensity to cracking: completely determined by the drying parameters of the briar. That is, the temperature and humidity in the room in which the briar is dried. That, however, is not a guarantee against microcracks that could appear in the briar during its growth. No one will see these cracks. Not the one who cuts and cooks briar at the sawmill will not see them. They will not be seen by the one who makes a smoking pipe out of this briar. However, such pipes very rarely fall into the hands of the pipe smoker, as they break during the manufacturing process.



.
That one's broken, Andrey, hope this helps.